Superman of the Danube plucks suicidal jumpers from the river


On a bright autumn day, Renato Grbic was out fishing on the Danube with his brother when he heard a big splash. At first, he thought somebody had thrown something off Pancevo bridge. Then he saw a man flailing in the water. "We hurried and pulled the man out," Mr Grbic recalled. "I remember telling him: 'Such a glorious day and you want to kill yourself!'."

It was the first time Mr Grbic saved a life. From that day 15 years ago, his own life would never be the same. The bright-eyed, tattooed restaurant owner from a shabby industrial zone on the outskirts of Belgrade has so far rescued 25 people who tried to kill themselves by jumping off the tall bridge over the Danube.

Always on alert in his little wooden motor boat, the burly 51-year-old has been dubbed the "Superman of the Danube" by his admirers and awarded a hero's plaque by Belgrade city authorities. But even "Superman" can't save everybody who jumps off the 60ft-high bridge: At least as many as he had saved have killed themselves at the spot since Mr Grbic's first rescue. "When I hear that someone has jumped and I wasn't there I really feel bad," he said. "My eyes are always on the bridge."

Mr Grbic has found that some of the people he rescued suffered from cancer or other terminal illnesses, while others cited poverty or unrequited love. All, he said, felt lonely. He added: "They often do it in daytime so they would be seen. They want attention, love."

One day, in mid-January about seven years ago, Mr Grbic was just preparing to turn his boat to the shore and go home when he heard a scream. An 18-year-old woman, going through a mental crisis, had burst out of her parents' car at the bridge, taken off her jacket and jumped, shouting: "Goodbye mum!" Mr Grbic said something had made him stick around. "It was a very windy day, a few minutes later and I would have gone."

The girl, Mr Grbic said, is the only one who has stayed in touch. Every January she comes to his fish restaurant to celebrate her "second birthday". She is married now and has a child. Mr Grbic was invited to the wedding reception.